Since Mom and Dad’s wedding reception took place on a farm, I decorate their anniversary cake with tiny cows and pigs. Dad doesn’t want his picture taken with my “farm cake.” I know his answer even before I ask: Not without your mom.
Still, he’s having a good time at his party, sitting at the backyard picnic table with my husband, brothers, and brothers-in-law. He’s telling stories, all of which begin, “So anyway — .” SEE family parties are often segregated: in the summer men tend to stay outside, women and children inside; in the winter, men claim a space and the women migrate to another area of the house. Today my son and nephew, both in their twenties, join the women inside where it’s cooler. We watch two-year-old Denim with Great Grandpa’s toys: marbles which he could surely swallow, but he simply puts them in his pockets or throws them the length of the living room. He entertains all of us as we watch him play with the same cars and trucks that my son and his cousins drove around this same carpet twenty years ago.
After lunch, Dad sits in the livingroom with most of the women. I tease a sister-in-law about something she told me when her youngest went away to college: now she could have sex on the kitchen table anytime. I say, “I’m never eating at your house again.”
I tell this story standing up, my hands in the air for emphasis.
Sister-in-law-in-question laughs and laughs and the rest of the women do, too. She’s been in the family for over thirty years. No reason to blush anymore, but today I find her red face so charming.
My dad says to me, “Have you been drinking?”
“Not a drop,” I say. He giggles.
I say, “Then come to find out last night, her husband never even knew about it!” This gets her off the hook. She didn’t really have table sex.My dad shakes his head and laughs. Then he says to me, “How does your husband put up with you?”
“He encourages me,” I say. What I mean is that my husband loves my stories and wants me to not only tell them but write them down.
My sister, Jackie, says, “Don’t forget to say in your blog that Mom likes Jackie best.”
All of us have played “Mom or Dad likes me best” for most of my adult life. It’s funny to my sibs and me every time, via “reply to all” emails or on the phone or in person. Our dad taught us that teasing is love, and we all sort of took to it.
I say, “You can have Mom, but Dad likes me best.” He’s sitting beside me, dozing. He has the ability to be an active part of a conversation one moment and asleep twenty seconds later. It’s not his age; he’s done this as long as I’ve known him.
As our conversation goes on—one or the other sister one-upping with evidence we’ve surely tried on each other before—Dad retreats to the guy table in the kitchen. You wouldn’t think a person would get tired of kids fawning over him, but perhaps he’s more than sick of this. He is eighty-six and still active. I don’t know if all of us kept him young, or we’ve worn him down.
Sometimes I wonder how my son, an only child, would have reacted if he’d had to compete with even one sibling for attention: if once in his twenty-one years he had to think Like me best. My sister, Ger, comes into the livingroom and sits in Dad’s place beside me on the couch. She says, “Dad likes me best. He meant to say your name just now, but he called you me. He said Ger because it’s his favorite name.”
“Or he’s having a stroke,” I say. We laugh and laugh. Our mother is too sick to come home for her own anniversary party, even for a few hours. Still, we’re almost giddy. My frazzled nerves mean I’m quick to laugh or to cry. Or perhaps it’s a relief to realize that even in our sadness we have lots to laugh about after all.
Jokes about “table sex” go on for an hour, especially after Dad leaves the living room.
Change the tablecloth before company comes, one sister says. Hope it’s a plastic tablecloth, says another.
We discuss what to get a niece for her bridal shower. How about a kitchen table, someone says. What every young couple needs. We laugh until we cry. We agree to give her a plastic tablecloth with step by step instructions for use. “A tablecloth with watermelons on it,” Ger says.
“Why?” I ask. Not the most sexual fruit, after all.
“Cause I love watermelon,” she says. We laugh harder. If Mom were here with us today, and healthy, she would have peed her pants from laughing so much. We may not even be aware that we’re laughing her share today.
As I start to leave the party, one of the guys asks me, “Are you putting that kitchen table story in your blog?”
“Yeah,” I say, “but I’m not saying which brother and sister-in-law. Is it Joey and Tami? Or is it David and Lauri?”
Joey says, “Don’t forget to write that Mom kissed me today.”
Her kiss was a sweet, sweet surprise—a gift Mom gave him—one I may remember for the rest of my life. I won’t tell my brother any of this just yet.
“Yeah,” I say to him, “But she thought you were David—her favorite son.”